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Archive for August, 2011

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery – 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District

Posted by Gabe on August 30, 2011

If you travel to Napa Valley looking for Cabernet Sauvignon, you’re going to find plenty of it. And pretty much regardless of how long your trip is you’re not going to get to taste all of it, or even most of it. What you need to do is set a more modest goal for a particular sub-set of Cabernet; that way at the very least you’ll have a fighting chance. Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly fond of good Mountain Cabernet. There are several renowned mountain regions within Napa and there is some great Cabernet to be found there. Often the depth and purity of fruit these wines showcase is nothing short of stunning. Spending a week hunting down as much Napa Valley Mountain Cab as you can find would be a great way to allocate some time. Last year I visited Smith-Madrone on Spring Mountain for the first time and I was knocked out. Their wines, their property and their personalities are all perfectly authentic examples of some of the very best of what Napa Valley has to offer. Today I’ll look at their current release of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Smith-Madrone 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit grown at their home vineyards in the Spring Mountain section of Napa Valley. Their vineyards are dry-farmed and the vines used for this wine have 34 years of age on them. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (82%), small amounts of Merlot (9%), and Cabernet Franc (9%) were also blended in. Barrel aging was accomplished over 22 months in American oak. The 2005 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon was bottled unfiltered and unfined. Just fewer than 1,500 cases of this vintage were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $45.

Red berry and bramble aromas fill the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate is deep and layered with a bevy of flavors. Cherries (both red and black), bits of herb and earth are the primary characteristics that surfaced when I first sipped this wine, Minerals such as flint and hints of pencil lead emerge on the finish along with dark cocoa, espresso and continued earth. The 2005 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon is a remarkably even-keeled, perfectly proportionate Cabernet Sauvignon. From start to finish it shows off rich, textured flavors and deep layers of fruit and spice that reward sipping over a long evening.

This wine from Stuart and Charles Smith is rather delicious now, particularly after an hour or so in the decanter. However it’s quite age-worthy and will improve under proper storage conditions for the next decade at minimum and drink well for another 5 or so after that. The bottom line is that the 2005 vintage of Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon in a tremendous example of why this particular grape and Napa Valley are synonymous. It’s also an exceptional value. In a valley filled with many lofty price tags, the cost of this wine is a steal for the quality you’re getting in the bottle relative to many other examples. The sticker may say $45 but the taste and quality of this wine says $75.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Tupun – 2008 Valle de Tupungato Malbec

Posted by Gabe on August 26, 2011

Malbec comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are incredibly fruit forward and others are more classically styled and structured. Today I’ll look at one that’s very reasonably priced from Bodega del Tupun, a Mendoza based producer. The family has their roots in Spain and has been making wines in Argentina under their own label since the mid 1990’s.

The Tupun 2008 Valle de Tupungato Malbec was produced from fruit sourced in the Mendoza region of Argentina. The vineyards this fruit was sourced from sit more than 3,600 feet above sea level in ground that is rich with limestone, clay and pebbles. This offering is 100% Malbec and it has a suggested retail price right around $20 and is currently available at for less than $10.

Plum, blueberry, mushroom and wisps of barnyard fill the highly perfumed nose of this 2008 Malbec. From the first sip the engaging flavors of this wine grab you into its warm, welcoming embrace. Black fruits dominate the palate and they’re joined by plum pudding and fruitcake spices. Dark fleshy plum flavors are joined by interspersing cranberry characteristics and continued spice on the finish which has above average length for the category. This wine will pair will with hard cheeses and roasted meats. It’s also a good choice to have with Pizza.

This Malbec seamlessly rides the line between juicy, forward fruit and a proportionate, balanced palate. In short this wine is more refined than many in a similar price range, making this a terrific value in Malbec.

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Franciscan Estate Winery – 2007 Merlot / 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on August 24, 2011

Franciscan Estate Winery is a Napa Valley stalwart that has been producing a stable of readily available wines for decades now. When I first spent time in Napa Valley, they were amongst the producers I visited time again. Today I’ll look at a couple of wines that have been part of their portfolio for a long time.

The Franciscan Estate 2007 Merlot was produced from Napa Valley fruit. In addition to Merlot (92%), this wine also contains small amounts of (Syrah (5%), Cabernet Sauvignon (2%) and Petit Verdot (1%). Fermentation of this wine took place over 16 days. Barrel aging was accomplished over 14 months in a combination of French (57%) and American (43%) oak; 18% of them were new and they came from three different cooperages. This offering has a suggested retail price of $21.

Bramble, mushroom, toast and cigar box aromas permeate the nose of this 2007 Merlot. A lovely blast of herbs underscores the palate which is dominated by an intertwining combination of red and black cherry flavors. Dusty, dark chocolate and plums join in as well. Earth, chicory, cinnamon and black pepper are all part of a firm and above average finish. What I like most about this wine is that it is quite obviously, almost forcefully Merlot. In a world were much of the Merlot is anonymous at best, this is a huge victory. This wine will drink well over the next 6-9 years.

The Franciscan Estate 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using Napa Valley fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), was blended with Merlot (12%), Syrah (4%), Cabernet Franc (3%), and Petit Verdot (1%). Fermentation and maceration took place over 22 days. Oak aging was accomplished over 22 months in small barrels. 25% of them were new and three different coopers were employed. Just fewer than 90,000 cases were produced and this wine has a suggested retail price of $27.

Bright, red and black berry fruit aromas dot the nose of this 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Vanilla bean is present as well. Blackberry, plum and cherry characteristics lead the sweet, juicy, very appealing palate of this wine. These flavors along with nutmeg and pepper continue through the finish which has good length. This Cabernet is more forward and a bit softer in body than the Merlot which has firmer structure. The Cabernet has soft tannins that yield easily with air and a really lush mouth-feel.

Each of these selections is available all over the countr,y and if you shop around, for a few dollars less than the Suggested retail. They’re fine examples of well made Napa Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon respectively. The Merlot definitely works best paired with food while this Cabernet is particularly lovely on its own. Both are worth your time and money.

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A Trio of Thirst Quenching Quality Boxed Wines

Posted by Gabe on August 22, 2011

With summer almost over it’s time to get friends and family together for a few more BBQ’s before the weather turns cool. Large gatherings mean lots of mouths to feed and plenty of thirsts to quench. Historically a lot of jokes have been made about boxed wine. And for many years the commentary, criticism and humor were warranted. However in the last 5 years things have taken a pretty dramatic turn for the better. There are a number of producers now putting quality wine out in boxes. This is often referred to as the bag in the box. More often than not these are 3 Liter containers which equates to four standard size bottles. These wines generally sell for right around $20 give or take a couple of dollars based on brand and where you’re shopping. If you were purchasing these as stand alone bottles you could expect to pay somewhere from $6- $9 per bottle. In addition to saving some money with the three liter format a few other advantages are part of things as well. Eschewing glass makes them more environmentally friendly. Additionally if you don’t finish them up no worries as the bag in a box concept keeps the wine fresh for approximately 30 days. Make no mistake there are still plenty of anonymous boxed wines you’ll want to avoid, but now there are also some very solid go to choices. Today I’ll look at three that I recommend.

The Falling Star 2009 Chardonnay was produced from fruit sourced in the Mendoza region of Argentina. Falling Star is part of the Trapiche line and represents their budget label. After hand harvesting and fermentation the wine was ages in stainless steel tanks for approximately 6 months prior to a light filtration and bottling, This wine is available in 750 ml bottles, 1.5 L bottles and 3 Liter Boxes. I tasted out of 3 Liter box which has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Tropical fruit aromas dot the nose of this Chardonnay from Argentina along with copious quantities of yellow and green apple. At the core of this wine is an inherent fruitiness. This is an engaging wine whose chief appeal is that it provides a pure blast of unadulterated Chardonnay flavor. The crisp, clean, refreshing finish shows off continued apple and orchard fruit flavors as well as wisps of minerals and lemon zest. Serve this Chardonnay well chilled at your next BBQ or party and the white wine lovers in the crowd will surely be pleased.

The Falling Star 2010 Malbec was produced from fruit sourced in Mendoza. Fruit was hand harvested and fermented for approximately 20 days at controlled, cool temperatures. 6 months of aging in stainless steel tanks followed prior to filtration and bottling. Much like the Chardonnay this wine is available in 3 sizes. The 3 Liter Box has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Dark and brooding jam fruit aromas burst forth from the nose on this 2010 Malbec. A number of spices such as nutmeg, vanilla and cardamom make their presence known as well. Juicy, appealing, forward dark fruit flavors are the story of this wines palate. This wine is loaded with pleasing flavors that will make an impression on party guests and keep them coming back to the box for more.  This wine has a reasonable finish for its price point and it will pair well with just about anything off the grill.

The Folonari 2009 Fresh Cask Pinot Noir was made from fruit sourced in the Veneto. This Italian wine is 100% Pinot Noir. After fermentation 80% of the wine was aged for roughly 6 months in stainless steel, the remaining 20% in French oak barriques. This Pinot is available in 750 ml bottles, 1.5 liter bottles and 3 Liter boxes. The 3 Liter Box has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Dried red fruit, clove, and bits of toast all emerge from the nose of this Pinot Noir. This wine features an even keeled palate where fruit and spice notes both play equally important roles. Dried black cherries, olive tapenade and bits of herbs are all present. A touch of smoke, sweet strawberry and vanilla crème all emerge on the finish. This is a balanced and dry wine with terrific acidity. The Folinari 3 Liter Pinot Noir would be a perfect choice to serve if you’re having a big pasta or pizza party.

Each of these Boxes of wine represents a solid value in its category. They’re appealing wines, meant to please crowds of people. They succeed quite admirably on that score. The easy to pour spouts they feature and the 30 day shelf life of these wines once opened add additonal value. Give one a shot for your next party and see what you think.

Posted in Chardonnay, Malbec, Pinot Noir | Leave a Comment »

Santa Carolina – 2009 Reserva Carménère / 2008 Reserva de Familia Carménère

Posted by Gabe on August 16, 2011

Chile’s Santa Carolina has a history that dates back more than 130 years. Like many producers from Chile they have several tiers of wines priced from budget friendly to premium. Santa Carolina has vineyards planted throughout Chile and are amongst the producers leading the charge of innovation. Today I’ll take a look at two of their current releases of Carménère.

The Santa Carolina 2009 Reserva Carménère was produced using fruit sourced at La Rinconada Vineyards in the Rapel Valley. This offering is 100% Carménère. Grapes were hand harvested. This wine is widely available and has a suggested retail price of $10.99. 

Heady dark fruit aromas lead the nose of this 2009 Carménère. Earth and tree bark characteristics are present as well. Blackberry, plum, huckleberry and chicory flavors are at hand in droves throughout the palate which shows good density. Black pepper, sweet dark chocolate and hints of espresso bean are present on the finish which has reasonable length for the price-point. This is a very appealing Carménère that’s super juicy from the word go. This wine will have wide appeal and for less than $10 if you shop around it’s one you can pour for at a large gathering without breaking the budget. 

The Santa Carolina 2008 Reserva de Familia Carménère was produced from fruit sourced at two vineyards; La Rinconada and Los Lingues, both located in the Rapel Valley. This wine is 100% varietal. All of the fruit was hand picked. This offering is available nationally and has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Violet and plum aromas are joined by toast and vanilla on the nose of this 2008 Carménère. The palate of this wine has depth, complexity and precision. It features blackberry, raspberry and bramble as well as a host of spices; black pepper, cardamom and nutmeg. Smoked meats, chocolate, earth and bits of licorice emerge on the finish which has terrific length and persistence. From start to finish this wine is full bodied and muscular while at the same time maintaining tremendous balance and proportion. This is a really nice example of Carménère and for less than $20 you’re likely to impress a lot of your friends with it. Pour it for them blind. Even if they peg it as Carménère, they’ll never get the price-point, it drinks richer than it costs.

Posted in Carmenere, Chile, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Tapeña – 2009 Garnacha

Posted by Gabe on August 12, 2011

Grenache is a varietal that in my opinion should be even more popular than it is. When it’s well made it can often pair with a wide array of foods. This engaging red is also often fun to drink on its own. In its homeland of Spain it’s known as Garnacha and is one of the most important red varietals. Today I’ll look at a widely available, budget priced offering from Tapeña.

The Tapeña 2009 Garnacha was produced from fruit sourced in the Tierra de Castilla region of Spain. This selection is 100% Garnacha. It has a suggested retail price of $9.99.

This 2009 Garnacha has a heady nose that’s studded with ripe berry fruit aromas and an undercurrent of spices. Both ripe and dried dark berry fruit flavors play off of each other through the palate along with tongue tingling spices such as black pepper and nutmeg. Sour cherries, wild strawberry, rhubarb and vanilla bean flavors all emerge on the finish which shows reasonable length. This wine has soft tannins and firm acidity.

As is typical of Garnacha this offering is made to pair with food. Beef sliders topped with caramelized onions and blue cheese would be an inspired match. On the other end of the spectrum dark chocolate would also work well. In any case at less than $10 this wine is a really nice value. If you’re already a fan of Spanish Garnacha, here’s another example to try. On the other hand, if you’re new to this varietal this is a fine Garnacha to start with.

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Benessere Vineyards – 2010 Rosato, Napa Valley Rosé

Posted by Gabe on August 10, 2011

Rosé is one of the many reasons I look forward to warm weather. I’m glad to report that as a wine culture in this country we’ve gotten better in the last few years when it comes to embracing good, dry Rosé. Just about every wine making country has a Rosé tradition; this is particularly true in Europe. In Italy the tradition is Rosato and Napa Valley’s Benessere Vineyards, whose focus is Italian varietals, makes their own Rosato which I’ll look at today.

The Benessere Vineyards 2010 Rosato was produced using Napa Valley fruit. This Rosé is composed of Zinfandel (49%), Sangiovese (41%) and Merlot (10%). Small amounts of the juice from each grape were bled off just prior to fermentation. This blend which becomes the Rosato was fermented in stainless steel tanks. Less than 300 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $16.

The nose of this Rosé brings to mind a bowl of fresh ripe red fruits. Cherry and raspberry flavors lead the palate which also shows off a nice core of spices. Red raspberry and a bit of blackberry emerge on the finish which is crisp and clean. This Rosé is fruity with just a bit of perceived sweetness poking through. The Benessere Rosato has a bit more heft than the average Rosé and will stand up to more substantial foods quite nicely. That said it’s perfectly delectable all by itself.

Benessere Vineyards makes Napa Valley wines that allow the Italian varietals they often work with to shine. Their portfolio is filled with wines which are elegant, balanced, food friendly and fairly priced. The 2010 Rosato is just one example of that. Check back soon for my look at their Zinfandels.

Posted in Merlot, Rosé, Sangiovese, Wine, Zinfandel | Leave a Comment »

Michael David Winery – 2010 Sauvignon Blanc / 2009 Petite Petit

Posted by Gabe on August 9, 2011

Michael David Winery has been turning out appealing, budget friendly wines for a number of years. Their 7 Deadly Zins is the first one that hit my radar. In subsequent years I’ve tasted many of their offerings and there has been a consistency of overall style and value to be found with their wines. Today I’ll look at a current release white and red in their portfolio.

The Michael David Winery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced in Lake County. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, small amounts of Semillon and Muscat Canelli were blended in. This wine saw no time in oak. Just over 1,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $14.

Aromas of grapefruit, lemon zest and vanilla bean are prominent on the nose of this 2010 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc. Melon, tropical fruit and a continuing parade of citrus notes emerge on the palate; lemon ice and hints of tangerine are of particular note. White peach, apricot, pepper and a touch of nutmeg are part of the finish which has reasonable length. This wine is light crisp and very refreshing. Increasingly Lake County has become a haven for very tasty Sauvignon Blanc at extremely reasonable price points. This example from Michael David Winery certainly falls into that category.

The Michael David Winery 2009 Petite Petit was produced from fruit sourced in the Lodi Appelation. This offering blends Petite Sirah (85%) with Petit Verdot (15%). After fermentation, Petite Petit was barrel aged for 18 months in French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $18.

Violets, toast, dark berries and vanilla punctuate the nose which features intense aromas of brooding dark fruits. Plums, blueberries, blackberries and a host of plum pudding and fruitcake spices fill the palate whish is dense, layered and fairly intense. Dark chocolate and hints of earth mark the velvety finish of this wine. Petite Petit has firm tannins that yield with some air. This is a big, bold wine that will work best paired with similar styled foods. At 85% Petite Sirah this wine could legally be labeled as such; however the Petit Verdot plays a pivotal role here at 15% adding such depth and dimension that the Petite Petit name is wholly appropriate and actually quite perfect.

Both of these wines from Michael David Winery offer lots of pleasurable drinking for their price-points. As is their overall house style these wines offer lots of friendly upfront fruit that will appeal to large groups with varying palates. Unlike a lot of wines in these categories the Michael David wines also offer depth and length of palate that belie their price points. If you like bold California wines, the Michael David Portfolio is one you should explore.

Posted in Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Santa Julia + – 2010 Torrontés / 2010 Malbec

Posted by Gabe on August 4, 2011

The Zuccardi Family in Argentina has been making wine since 1963 and they have more than 2,800 acres under vine. They’re committed to sustainable farming practices and making natural wines. Their latest project is the Santa Julia + line. These are budget priced offerings that sell for around $10. Today I’ll look at two wines in this line.

The Santa Julia + 2010 Torrontés was produced using fruit sourced from their sustainably farmed Estate Vineyards in the Mendoza region of Argentina. Grapes were picked over a two week period at the end of March 2010. Temperature controlled fermentation was accomplished with select yeasts. This offering is 100% Torrontés and it has a suggested retail price of $10.

Aromas of white flowers and stone fruit fill the lovely nose of this 2010 Torrontés. The palate is quite fruity and juicy, yet perfectly dry. Apricot and peach flavors play a large role. Hints of mango chip in as well. Almond, hazelnut, vanilla bean and grapefruit characteristics are part of the finish which is crisp and clean with zippy acidity. This wine is a nice value in Torrontés, it’s refreshing and it shows off wonderful varietal character.

The Santa Julia + 2010 Malbec was produced from grapes grown on sustainably farmed Estate Vineyards in three distinct areas of Argentina. This offering is 100% Malbec. Following 20 days of maceration 30% of the wine was aged in French oak for four months. The barrels included were 1st, 2nd and 3rd time used. This wine has a suggested retail price of $10.

The deep, dark purple hue of this wine is striking the moment you pour it into the glass. Aromas of lavender and violets fill the nose along with brooding dark fruits. Plum and blackberry flavors are quite prominent throughout the palate along with both red and black raspberry. Wisps of toasty oak, white pepper as well as bits of dark chocolate are all part of the finish which has more than reasonable length for this category. Fine acidity keeps things in check.

These wines are emblematic of the value coming out of Argentina. These two offerings represent the key white and red varietals they offer. For less than $10 apiece if you shop around these wines are great everyday values that show off pure fruit flavors.

Posted in Malbec, Torrontés, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Parducci Wine Cellars – 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Posted by Gabe on August 2, 2011

Sauvignon Blanc is a varietal that adapts well to a large number of regions the world over. This grape is made in a host of enjoyable styles. Mendocino County is one of the regions that can under the right circumstances produce distinct Sauvignon Blanc. Today I’ll look at a value priced offering from Parducci Wine Cellars.

The Parducci 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced at the Hildreth Family’s vineyards. They’ve tended their land in Ukiah for five generations. This Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in stainless steel and saw no oak treatment of any sort. 2,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $11. It’s available all over the United States.

Lemon ice and vanilla bean aromas burst forth from the very engaging nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. An array of flavors emerges once you take a sip; apricot, white peach and citrus characteristics take center stage. White melon, continued stone fruits and a cavalcade of spices emerge on the mellifluous finish which also shows off hints of papaya. Drink this wine by itself or pair it with light summer fare for excellent results.

I absolutely love this 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Parducci. For $11 (less if you shop around) this wine is an exceptional value. The folks at Parducci are turning out wine release after wine release that belie their price points by offering tons of bang for the buck; this is just one of the most current examples. Buy their wines with confidence.

Posted in Sauvignon Blanc | Leave a Comment »


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